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Poster: Fact_Checker Date: Aug 5, 2009 3:56am
Forum: feature_films Subject: Re: Winnowed recent-moves / Babes in Toyland 1934

The list contains

There's strong reason to believe that this is still copyrighted.

What can mislead a person is that there were two renewals filed on this film. One of the renewal filings was invalid, but the other one seems genuine. The invalid one was filed by MGM, and it is undeniably invalid because MGM later disavowed it. Still, if the other renewal is valid (it was timely), then it doesn't matter that there was an invalid renewal also, because just one valid renewal is enough to qualify the film for its second term of copyright.


This page shows the essential data on the copyright renewals (repro'd from copyright catalogs) and quotes from the letter MGM filed admitting they weren't entitled to renew.

(Get to this section by scrolling down about 70% of the page to header "Conflicting Information Demonstrates that Additional Research Can Pay Off" -- just under big yellow text box)

The big question to answer to determine if "Babes in Toyland" was validly renewed is whether Auerbach Film Enterprises indeed was entitled to renew. Auerbach was pretty much a distributor of foreign films in America, so it can seem odd that it might actually have owned this film -- but the 1934 "Babes in Toyland" had an unusual chain of ownership. First, RKO bought the rights to make a movie from the operetta and announced in 1930 that it would soon make a production costing a million dollars. RKO abandoned the plans and sold the project to Hal Roach. Roach was forced to accept a provision RKO had accepted in its earlier contract: ownership of the movie would be turned over to the rights-holders of the operetta after a certain number of years. Roach distributed the movie through MGM while the Roach-MGM distribution deal was in place. A decade or more later, when Roach had new distribution deals for his past films, "Babes in Toyland" was now under new ownership and distributed separately by a company not having any of the other Roach titles. The new owners of the film likely found it troublesome to handle so little volume and would have been wise to sell their rights in full. In the early 1950s, the "Babes in Toyland" film had been used as collateral for a loan by Federal Films. Auerbach was likely not in a financial position to buy a film library, but a single title or small library would have fit their pocketbook.

One thing that we can probably safely eliminate is the possibility that when the film copyright came up for renewal in 1962, that a mere licensee (rather than an owner) filed renewal -- because the film wasn't in distribution in 1962. That year was in the midst of a long period when Disney was paying to suppress the 1934 version as competition to its 1960 remake. (William K. Everson in his 1967 book "The Films of Laurel & Hardy" says that the 1934 film had not been seen since the 1960 version.) Thus, figure that an owner would have filed renewal, because there wasn't a mere distributor at the time.

Does anyone have grounds to argue that the Auerbach renewal was not valid?

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Poster: Video-Cellar Date: Aug 5, 2009 6:06am
Forum: feature_films Subject: Re: Winnowed recent-moves / Babes in Toyland 1934

David Pierce's "Forgotten faces: why some of our cinema heritage is part of the public domain" (Journal of Film History, Volume 19, pp. 125–143, 2007) contains some further information about the status of this film.

"The least typical Laurel and Hardy feature was Babes in Toyland (1934). The heirs to composer Victor Herbert would only license film rights to the 1903 operetta for a fixed term, so producer Hal Roach made his film under a ten year license to the story property. In 1945, after Roach’s rights had expired, the heirs made a new ten year agreement for $66,000 with producers Boris Morros and William Le Baron, whose Federal Films was planning to use Technicolor and feature George Pal’s Puppetoons characters for the toyshop sequences.18 Separately, they purchased the negative to the Laurel and Hardy version from Hal Roach Studios for a token $3,000. But when they were unable to get their film into production, Federal Films forfeited on a $100,000 bank loan in 1950 and the story rights (and 1934 negative) were seized by Pacific Finance Loans.19 The 1934 film was licensed for a 1950 reissue to recover some of the lost investment. Distributor Lippert Pictures, Inc. made some cuts to satisfy the MPAA, and left off the copyright notice when they renamed the movie from Babes in Toyland to the more commercial March of the Wooden Soldiers,
which increased the marquee value by shifting the emphasis away from babies and toys to war. Although the copyright for the original Babes was renewed, some adventurous public domain distributors distribute the film under the reissue title, claiming that their copy, at least, is in the public
domain because of the lack of notice." (p.129-130)

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Poster: Fact_Checker Date: Aug 5, 2009 5:26pm
Forum: feature_films Subject: Re: Winnowed recent-moves / Babes in Toyland 1934

Through the 1980s, "March of the Wooden Soldiers" was a mainstay of public-domain VHS distributors, and it was pretty easy to find low-cost copies in major chain stores (Suncoast Motion Picture Company, MusicPlus, etc.). At some point, all of these copies on various labels disappeared from the stores. Multi-tape Laurel & Hardy sets that had contained it were replaced by sets that didn't. It seems likely that a legal challenge was made against these distributors. "Babes in Toyland" under that title had not been issued by these companies but "March of the Wooden Soldiers" had, so let's figure that the public domain companies were told that by copying "March of the Wooden Soldiers," they were infringing the underlying copyright on the 1934 "Babes in Toyland" (which of course they were).

If you figure that these companies had money invested in video masters, packaging, unsold inventory, and faced return shipping costs, you should figure that at least some of these companies would research whether "Babes in Toyland" did indeed have a valid renewal. I have no inside information on this; I'm just figuring that the lack of infringement of "March of the Wooden Soldiers" for about the last 20 years amounts to near-proof that the public domain companies with the greatest capital investments at stake became satisfied that the "Babes in Toyland" renewal was everything the film's owner said it was.

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Poster: Fact_Checker Date: Aug 5, 2009 4:24am
Forum: feature_films Subject: Re: Winnowed recent-moves / Babes in Toyland 1934

In my post of about an hour ago on invalid notices and earlier versions of the U.S. statutes, I wrote that I probably was sounding like a broken record by bringing up the site again and again.

So what happens? I read that "Babes in Toyland" was on Internet Archive, remembered the documentation on copyrightdata, and posted on that too. Just so everyone knows, I do read other sites for copyright legal info. There just may be a massive coincidence going on that the topics discussed on this forum have answers there, thus leading to my link of too.